With a little planning, you and your friends can use points and miles to take a memorable trip, whether relaxing at a spa with a mojito or going on an epic adventure.
Have you been talking forever about a vacay with your pals but find that money is tight and family trips wipe out your travel budget? Rewards might be your ticket to a “girlfriend getaway.”
With a little planning, you and your friends can use points and miles to take a memorable trip, whether your idea of a good time is relaxing at a spa with a mojito in (a freshly manicured) hand or going on an epic adventure.
“I’ve actually done it quite a few times,” Stephanie Zito, creator of Upgrade Unlocked and author of CreditCards’com’s “Have Cards, Will Travel” column, says of girlfriend getaways on rewards.
Zito used points to vacation with her friend Robin in the Maldives (See “How to earn an exotic vacation at the grocery store”), where they watched a spectacular sunset from a hot tub in an over-the-water spa. She traveled with her friend Teresa to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, where they went diving and encountered a shark. She also journeyed with her friend Jes to Iceland. They took a road trip in a camper van, past waterfalls, ice caves and fjords, and stopped each day to soak in a hot spring.
Inspired? Follow these steps for planning a trip with friends on rewards.
Step No. 1: Plan your girlfriend getaway
Planning your travel far in advance is the best way to ensure a fun and stress-free trip. Remember that lead time is especially important if you need time to rack up rewards for free airfare and hotel stays.
- Get real about money and time.
First have a talk to make sure everyone is on board.Discuss when you each have time to go, how much time you can realistically take and your budgets to pay for the parts of the trip not covered by rewards, says Marybeth Bond, a travel expert and author of two books on girlfriend getaways. She says these three pieces of information serve as starting points for planning a group trip.Bring up rewards tactfully if you aren’t sure if your friend collects rewards or is in a position to get a rewards card, says travel writer Tessa Juliette. “The last thing you want is to play even a small part in your friend getting into debt,” she says.
- Decide on a destination.
Use your travel time and budget as a starting point for picking a vacation spot.For example, Juliette and her friends choose locations seasonally. “If it’s in the fall, maybe we’ll find a place where we can relax in a cabin and look at the leaves,” she says. “If it’s in winter, maybe we’ll pick an island where we can relax on the beach.” She recommends starting a text chat to exchange ideas. Need inspiration? Check out these girlfriend getaway ideas in the U.S. and around the world.Or maybe one of you has a certain place on your bucket list and your friends are game to go. That was the case with Zito’s trip to the Maldives, which was her friend Robin’s “dream trip.” Her friend had spent two years saving up 380,000 Hilton points, Zito says. (She pitched in 68,000 Hilton points and covered her friend’s flight.)Another approach is to peruse packages on your rewards portal to see if any destination catches your eye.
- Designate a point person to plan the trip.
Planning will go much more smoothly and stay on schedule better if one person takes the lead, Bond says. Generally, it’s best if the person who has organizational skills, trip planning experience and rewards savvy takes charge.Planning a trip can be complicated anyway, and that’s compounded when you add rewards and multiple people to the mix.
Step No. 2: Create a gal-pal rewards strategy
Once you have your trip planned, it’s time to figure out how you’ll use rewards. There’s strength in numbers, and friends can collaborate to create a amazing (and even a practically free) experience. Here are five expert tips on how to make rewards go further for an escape with your girlfriends:
Some travel rewards cards offering generous sign-up bonuses
|Card||Sign-up bonus||Minimum spend requirement|
|Capital One Venture Rewards card||50,000 miles (worth $500 in travel)||$3,000 within three months|
|Chase Sapphired Preferred card||60,000 points||$4,000 within three months|
|Marriott Rewards Premier credit card||75,000 points||$3,000 within three months|
|Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card||Two free nights at any participating tier 1 Ritz-Carlton hotel||$4,000 within three months|
|Chase United Explorer Card||40,000 United miles||$2,000 within three months|
|Gold Delta Skymiles from American Express credit card||30,000 Delta miles||$1,000 within three months|
|American Express® Gold Card||35,000 points||$4,000 within three months|
1. Figure out how your rewards can work together
Look at your stockpiles of points and ask your friends to do the same. One of the first questions to ask: Do you have the same type of points or different types of points?
When a friend has the same kind of points, you can pool them so they go further, Zito says. For example, reward programs allow free transfers. “When a friend has different points, you divide and conquer,” she says.
For example, on her Australia-New Zealand-Fiji trip with her friend, she used her American Airlines miles to book Quantas tickets for the pair, and her friend used her United Miles to book their Air New Zealand flights. Or, one BFF can get the flights while the other springs for the hotel.
2. Try to keep things even (but don’t obsess)
A girlfriend getaway should be a chance to bond, not a source of conflict, so try to make sure you each pitch in a fair number of points.
“Everyone needs to talk about this upfront because rewards are not completely free and you have earned them and they have value,” says Gerri Detweiler, a credit card expert who recently took a short girlfriend getaway with rewards.
But that doesn’t mean you should pull out a calculator, says Viktoria Altman, a New York travel writer who took a girlfriend getaway to a spa resort in Arizona last spring with a girlfriend. The two met in a book club and live near each other, but are so busy with kids and work they rarely get together.
Altman used her Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book two plane tickets, and her friend used SPG points to get three nights at the resort. But they never number-crunched the dollar values of the points. “It’s not as fun or spontaneous if you’re sitting there counting every penny,” Altman says.
3. Stock up on points if necessary
The more rewards savvy person should help her friend figure out the best cards to get and the wisest strategy to earn the points she needs for that specific trip, Zito says.
And remember, lead time is especially important if one person is getting a new card with a sign-up bonus to help pay for the trip, Altman says. The card will take time to arrive, then the cardholder will need a few months to meet the minimum spend and more time for points to post.
Another way friends can work in tandem? Take advantage of referral bonuses when opening these cards, Zito says. “They’ll earn a sign-up bonus to put toward the trip, and you’ll earn a bonus when they sign up,” she says.
4. Make your reservations together
When taking a trip with your girlfriends, it’s key to coordinate reservations.
If one person needs to rack up points, it might be best for all members of the group to wait until that’s done before transferring points and making reservations. That will help you avoid a situation in which you book your ticket to Jamaica, buy a new bikini and sunnies, then get the news that your friend didn’t make the minimum spend for her sign-up bonus and can’t go.
5. See if one member of your group can get an upgrade.
If one friend has special status, see if you can leverage that into a better deal for all of you.
For example, Juliette has a friend who is a frequent guest at a hotel chain because she travels a lot for work, so she’ll reserve with her points and then call to see if she can get a free or cheap upgrade. She tries to upgrade a room to a suite so her friends have a cozy living area to have a drink and hang out before going out, she says.
To thank her, the group will do something nice. “We’ll make sure her dinners are covered or that she never pays for a drink,” Juliette says.
Using your points and miles for a girlfriend getaway can be rewarding in more than one way. “I’ve traveled with some of the same girlfriends once a year, or every other year, for the past 20 years,” Zito says. “Even though we don’t live in the same place, travel is something that always brings us together and keeps our relationships strong.”
See related: Using rewards to fly first class, Multiple Chase cards can mean better travel options